I’ve always valued coffee not only for caffeine, but also for its capacity for flavor. Since coming to Wesleyan, however, I’ve noticed that finding a quality roast is a persistent struggle. During much of the first semester, whenever I was in desperate need of a caffeine fix, I often found myself compromising my values and settling for the dull, watered-down espresso served on campus. As winter break drew closer, however, I saw the caffeinated light; I discovered Klekolo World Coffee.
Upon arriving at the alternative café, I knew I had been led to the Promised Land of coffee. The atmosphere was everything I could’ve hoped for in a coffee house: the lighting was the perfect mix of bright and dim, the customers were diverse, the employees were both friendly and offbeat, and the ambient music, transitioning from hard rock to smooth jazz, was wonderfully varied. Most importantly, however, the espresso boasted all the qualities that had eluded me in drinking the campus roasts. Possessing a dark and multifaceted flavor, it fulfilled all my coffee dreams—and then some.
Since this first, almost religious experience, I have made the Klekolo pilgrimage many times. Although each one of these trips has had something unique to offer, my most recent visit stands out as particularly memorable. When I walked to Klekolo this past Monday, I had two motivations in mind. One, of course, was to get the exceptional espresso I had ordered so many times before. The other was to talk with Yvette Elliot, one of Klekolo’s two friendly founders and learn more about the establishment’s history.
The visit began as it normally does. Upon approaching the nearly inconspicuous storefront and entering the venue, I promptly made my way to the counter to order my requisite medium latte with two shots of espresso. Once I had settled, I sat down to converse with Yvette.
What became clear through my discussion with Elliot was something that had already been communicated to me through the quality of the product itself: Klekolo was founded on a true passion for espresso. The café was opened to give the beverage a more respectable presence in the New England area. Elliot moved to Middletown from Oregon in 1994 to begin the business with Holly Rose, a friend she met while living in Northern California.
“She came out here because her mother’s husband died, and she didn’t want her mom to spend the first winter alone,” Elliot said. “And she was having a really rough time finding a good latte on the East Coast.”
Since the time of its opening, Klekolo has transformed into more than just a coffee house. Hosting live music, poetry readings, knitting sessions, and even philosophical discussions, the venue has become a hub of creativity. Furthermore, with its display of local artists and sale of pastries from five local bakeries, it is committed to promoting the small community enterprises of Middletown.
At its core, however, Klekolo has more or less stayed true to its origins. The shop has expanded its menu to offer more specialty drinks and has begun selling the aforementioned pastries, but it has always been organic and fair trade, offered single cup brewing of over 50 varieties of coffee, and, perhaps most notably, maintained female ownership since 1994.
“Our society as a whole is so male dominated that it’s nice when there are things that are female-dominated to help out,” Elliot said. “Our world definitely needs more balance, so whatever we can do to help out is good.”
In this same vein, Elliot expressed her belief that coffee, and Klekolo by extension, is equally effective in balancing the world by promoting interactions between people of different ages and backgrounds.
“Coffee helps people connect with people they might not otherwise talk to,” she said. “During the time I’ve been here, you see politicians come in and talk to homeless people. You see business people come in and talk to college students. You see high school kids come in with their parents until they eventually become customers.”
As Elliot and I finished up our chat, I couldn’t help but see the environment of Klekolo in a different light. Acknowledging the diverse array of customers, I saw with clarity the unifying power of coffee that Yvette had described. Around me, there were elderly couples, businessmen, Wesleyan students, and bikers, all connected by a singular experience of caffeine and conversation. This observation gave the name of the coffee shop new meaning. A sampling of the Middletown community, it seemed, had gathered at Klekolo World Coffee.